Why is it that a gender which makes up half of the population of the world so underrepresented? Around 78% of newspaper articles in any month are written by men. There are under 25% women in the Houses of Parliament. Just 17.3% of blue chip directors are women on FTSE 100 boards.
And despite efforts to change those things, barriers still exist for women in all these areas. Pay gaps still exist between men and women for the work that they do, and the media is no different. Women still face questions in selections referring to how they will balance being a politician with raising their children, despite the same questions not be asked of fathers attempting selection. And the move towards eliminating the “glass ceiling” is slow, with eight companies in the FTSE 100 still having men-only boardrooms.
It is impossible to deny there is a long way to go until we can start proclaiming equality for our women. Sexism does still exist – and it is so casual that many people don’t even notice it anymore. Men pass it off as jokes. Women expected to just take it all in their stride. It shouldn’t be that way.
Take the recent front pages of The Sun and The Star following the death of Reeva Steenkamp. The Sun particularly has been heavily criticised for running their front page – and rightly so too. I don’t normally share pictures like that, but I think it’s important to highlight the majority attitude of the media towards women. Now, we all know Page 3 exists, but this is a murder victim being objectified across the front of a national newspaper. No dignity for a woman who had been killed. No respect for her grieving family and friends. It demonstrates an attitude which says “Even when you’re are dead, you’re still just objects to us.”
There appears to be two extremes in the media world – post pictures of women in their underwear to be leered over, or purposely print unflattering pictures of celebrities or women politicians. Either way, neither suggest that women are much more than their appearance. Cue Kate Middleton – Duchess of Cambridge, royalty, beautiful, glamorous, “fashion icon”.
Hilary Mantel’s comments about Kate, where she says “Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character”? She has a point. Mantel is making the point that this is the attitude of the media. Kate cannot possibly be Princess simply because Prince William fell in love with her. No, Kate is nothing more than her appearance. A manufactured Princess. She can’t possibly be a genuine, kind, intelligent woman, she’s far too beautiful.
And that attitude carries across from the media snapping royalty, to ordinary people, ordinary men, and their attitudes to women and how they should look, dress or even act. Following my election, personal comments came thick and fast. Second only to comments about my age came – you guessed it – comments about my size. The way I dress. One comment even suggested I “wasn’t showing enough leg” in the dress I was wearing.
Equality for liberation groups is too important to ignore. I am proud to be part of a movement which acknowledges the need to eradicate sexism. But sadly, even within the Labour Party, casual sexism is kicking. Within the last 24 hours, by a member of the very movement I am so proud to fly the flag for, I was offered £150 to sleep with him. And when refused, was told “I’m gonna rape you”. Both dismissed as “off the cuff jokes” – banter, even. This is exactly what I am talking about. The incitement of rape and the insinuation of prostitution – violence against women – are neither banter, nor funny. They are oppressive and exploitative. They are nasty, vicious comments. And they should be taken as such, not dismissed as banter.
Because that attitude – that casual “I-don’t-even-care-about-your-feelings, you’re-just-a-woman, lol-its-just-a-joke” attitude – has made it socially acceptable to degrade women, not just in national newspapers, but to women like me, every day, without concern. I reject the idea that sexism no longer exists. It is alive and well.